Sunday, March 27, 2011

Magic Buffet At The End Of The World!


There's a new interview with me up on the website Magical Buffet. It's pretty good and I even talk about the comments section of this here blog!

I've also got a new article up on the Suicide Girls safe-for-work blog. It's about the end of the world. You won't want to miss that!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Jesus! I'm on the Cover of a Dutch Magazine!


I'm on the cover of this month's issue of the Dutch magazine Vorm & Leegte, which means Form & Emptiness. It's a pretty big deal Buddhist magazine, as I understand. The Dutch equivalent of Tricycle or Shambhala Sun -- two magazines on which I'm certain I will never be featured on the the covers of. The photo was shot during the lunch break of a one-day retreat I led in Nijmegen in the Netherlands last year. The photographer shot what seemed to me to be somewhere around 25,000 pictures. I was getting tired of posing and trying to look photogenic, which accounts for the pose they chose. It's probably something I tried out of a desperate attempt to look interesting. I don't really work too much on controlling my image. Obviously.

I just got back from the wilds of Saskatoon way up in the Great White North of Saskatchewan, Canada. That was my second trip to Saskatoon. As before it was a lot of fun. But not as much fun as last time because the cold I caught just after coming back from Florida has hung on and on. This is due, again obviously, to far too much touring.

Speaking of touring, it looks like I'll be in Europe this Autumn.

I have confirmed a retreat in (at? with?) Benedikutshof in Germany Sept. 27 - October 2.

I am talking to some people in the Netherlands to set up some talks and things October 3-10.

I have also agreed to attend the conference by the German Buddhist Union Oct. 21-23.

Many other people are talking to me including folks in Durham, England, in Glasgow, Scotland, in France, Finland and Poland. But so far only the people in Germany and the Netherlands have suggested any definite dates. We'll see how the other stuff stacks up.

Someone in Belgium contacted me about going there. But I have lost that contact. So if you're reading this, please write me again.

Which brings up another point: If you have written to me about coming somewhere and I haven't gotten back to you, I AM NOT SNUBBING YOU. I don't snub. I do, however, forget things easily and I am terrible about organization. I desperately need a secretary or assistant of some kind. But so far no one has volunteered for the job. I am not one of those Great Spiritual Masters with a retinue of flunkies to do their bidding. I am doing all of this myself. Write me again if you don't hear back.

I've been reading Stephen Batchelor's new book Confession of a Buddhist Atheist lately. I like it a lot. It's not at all what I expected. I expected a Buddhist version of one of those atheistic screeds, along the lines of Christopher Hitchens' God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. But this is really good. When I'm done I'll post an actual review. It definitely falls under the category of "Buddhist Books That Don't Suck."

I was also sad to see that Victoria Jackson, who I used to think was pretty funny has gone bat shit crazy. Sad. And couldn't she have gotten a better Bible than the Gideon bible it looks like she stole from her hotel?

Friday, March 18, 2011

Tokyo is the Best City in the World


I've been following what's going on in Japan very closely. So far the most reliable source of info seems to be the BBC. This report puts a lot of what we're hearing about the radiation levels in perspective.

I also check NHK's English language service at least once a day. NHK is Japan's national broadcasting service, similar to the BBC or CBC. So you can depend on the government playing some role in controlling what they say. But my take on things is that the Japanese government is pretty pissed off at TEPCO. So while I take everything NHK says with a grain of iodized salt, I think they're fairly reliable, all things considered.

I am not watching channels like FOX News at all. I haven't been following any big American news services. Those guys always seem more interested in increasing their ad revenues than in actually reporting. The few times I've checked any of their reports, they're so full of high priced special effects and graphics that I can't place any value on the reports themselves.

As for the so-called "alternative news sources" many of those seem just as over-the-top and biased as the commercial news sources, and possibly even hungrier for attention. Plus their own information sources are usually extremely dubious.

The BBC report above says that the psychological effects of the radiation scare are far more significant than the actual radiation, which is still negligible unless you're very close to the damaged reactors. The scares about radiation are actually hampering efforts to help those who have really been affected by the tsunami and the earthquake. Relief teams from foreign countries are staying away from Japan out of misguided fears over radiation, which is a damned shame. Almost criminally so, if you ask me.

This is all very personal to me. Some of my closest friends live in Miyagi Prefecture where the devastation was the worst, and in Tokyo, where a lot of people seem to be going quietly insane. People who were less than two miles away from the blasts at Hiroshima and Nagasaki were unaffected by radiation. In fact many people who were in those cities when the blasts happened showed no effects of radiation. And the levels at Fukushima are far lower than those, even in the worst case scenarios.

Now I hear people in California are stocking up on iodine tablets. This is simply insane. Unless, of course, they're worried about their state's own nuclear reactors and how earthquake prone California is. But I really don't think that's the case. It's just pure misguided panic.

Look. I am as anti-nuke as anyone could be. I was in a band that did a song called Drop The A-Bomb On Me twenty-mumble years ago. I think nuclear power is dangerous and it's a big mistake to depend on it. I hope the recent events in Japan add some fuel to the anti-nuclear power movement.

But I am also not worried that Tokyo is going to become a radioactive wasteland because of something 128 miles away. I'm more concerned for my ex-wife's family freezing up north without heating oil and angry that rescue teams from America are refusing to come help because their organizers fear they might get sued or some such nonsense.

And here's the inevitable plugs for my talks and stuff in Saskatoon:

Today, Friday, March 18:

11:30am-1pm -Talk on Sex, Sin and Zen/intro to meditation, THORV 159 - third correction - not the Arts Building at all, but Thorvaldson. Saskatoon

2:30pm - meditation at the Multi-Faith Centre at Rugby Chapel, the old church on the west side of St. Thomas More College on College Dr.

7:30pm - introduction to meditation at
Ken Sailor's house, 422 10th St E.

For more information please contact Jan or Ken at 665-3430 or
ken.sailor@gmail.com

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Saskatoon, Karma and Charlie Sheen


I leave tomorrow morning at nothing o'clock for my gigs this weekend in sassy Saskatoon. You can find all my tour dates on this convenient webpage. It's always the first link on my blog. The links are on the left side of the page, about midway down.

The Saskatoon gigs are as follows:

• March 17, 2011 (Thu) 7:30 PM McNally Robinson Booksellers 3130 8th Street East, Saskatoon, SK, Canada
• March 18, 2011 (Fri) 11:30am-1pm University of Saskatchewan Room ARTS 146 Saskatoon, SK, Canada
• March 18, 2011 (Fri) 2:30 pm Meditation at the Multi Faith Centre at Rugby Chapel, 1121 College Dr., Saskatoon, SK (old church on west side of St. Thomas More College on College Drive)
• March 18, 2011 (Fri) 7:30pm Introduction to Meditation at Ken Sailor’s House 422 10th St. E., Saskatoon, SK, Canada
• March 19-20, 2011 (Sat & Sun) 10am-3pm Zazen at Ken Sailor’s House 422 10th St. E., Saskatoon, SK, Canada (Dharma talk & discussion at 3pm each day)

***

I've been seeing a lot of nonsense about karma regarding the recent disasters in Japan. There's a webpage going around that supposedly lists dozens of Facebook status updates saying the earthquake and tsunami were karmic retribution for the attack on Pearl Harbor. Now Glenn Beck is saying it was some kind of message from God. Pat Robertson has apparently learned his lesson and is keeping mum about what he thinks.

The people who post these things about karma haven't got a clue in the world. I've said it before and I'll say it again, you cannot ever know someone else's karma. You can't even figure out your own.

I've often talked about how I can see karma operating in my own life. When I say that I am not referencing things like natural disasters and so-called "acts of God." I'm talking about how, when I act out of anger, angry action seems to come back to me, often from sources other than the object of my original anger. Same with greed, jealousy and all the rest. I am not talking about things like, I dunno, a bucket of soup falling on my head from a third floor window after I stole a copy of Penthouse from the newsstand or whatever. Get those kinds of ideas out of your heads, people!

***

And finally, Charlie Sheen. The other night a friend in Tokyo called me up. She was pretty shaken up by the stuff going on over there and she wanted to talk about anything but earthquakes and nuclear meltdowns. So I ended up sending her a bunch of videos about Charlie Sheen (including this one I just found. Jeez, talk about "bi-winning!" Hubba-hubba!).

Charlie's stuff didn't make the news much over in Japan. I don't think Two and a Half Men ever showed over there. So all Sheen is known for is his long dead movie career. He's not very newsworthy. Anyway, the videos seemed to cheer her up a bit and got her mind off of stuff she couldn't do anything much about anyway. So Charlie Sheen has provided a valuable public service! And I'm not even joking about that.

***

As for all the panic talk about those nuclear reactors, can I ask everybody a favor? Just PIPE DOWN WITH THAT SHIT FOR A MINUTE. OK? Because the uninformed panicky garbage you spew out over the Internets travels to people who are really, personally affected by it.

I don't care if you think the politicians over there are lying. EVERYBODY thinks the politicians over there are lying. That is not an original thought or in any way unique. No one in Japan believes anything they hear from the government. They don't need your dire predictions of disaster based on what you learned by watching the movie The China Syndrome on VHS back in 1986. There is plenty of that out there already. Trust me. Plenty. So shut up.

See you in Canada!

Monday, March 14, 2011

STARE AT BOOBS! IT'S GOOD FOR YOU!

OK. Something to take your mind off the Japanese earthquake. Here is an article I wrote and submitted to Suicide Girls the day before the earthquake struck. After the disaster in Japan I decided not to change this because I figured by Monday we'd all need something a bit lighter to read.

It's actually about two pretty interesting studies regarding pornography. One implies that the legalization and wider distribution of porn in the Czech Republic actually seems to have had some influence in reducing the number of real sex crimes. The other report says that staring at breasts can make you healthier. And that's why I do it, folks!

Finally, here is a cartoon that appeared in a Malaysian newspaper on Monday prompting a lot of people to get very upset. The newspaper issued an apology. That's our old pal Ultraman running away from the tsunami. Ultraman is a well-known symbol of Japan all over Asia.

The artist got it wrong though. The character is clearly supposed to be the original Ultraman. But he is depicted with gloves. It was Ultraman Jack who wore gloves! Although some of the live stage show versions of original Ultraman in the 1980s wore gloves. For 15 years I had to be the source of this kind of information.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Japan Earthquake


Since nobody has put up any maps showing where Osaki City is in regards to where the recent earthquake hit, I made my own. I hope you can see Osaki. It's got a red square by it. It's not Osaka, which is what Google asks if I mean every time I try to search for it. Osaki is a newly created city established in 2006 by combining several smaller cities into one administrative district.

Osaki City is where my ex-wife Yuka's family lives. Their town used to be called Kashimadai. They are all safe. But her brother and his wife and two kids have been sleeping in their car. I'm not clear on exactly why. I don't think their building collapsed. But they might be concerned about going back inside until it's all checked out.

If you look on the map you can see that they were very close to the epicenter of the earthquake. Since they were pretty far inland, the tsunamis did not reach them. But I'm sure a lot of stuff got damaged in the area. I have not seen any photos at all from Osaki City, which is good news. If there was anything dramatic there I'm sure the news guys would've gotten a picture of it.

My friend Norman England lives in Tokyo in the Shimokitazawa district. He wrote a very clear piece about his experiences in Tokyo during the earthquake. Norman's been in Japan a long time and I respect his perspective. He's not full of dreamy nonsense about "the Japanese character" and all that stuff.

A whole big bunch of weirdness has cropped up since the earthquake. Lots of people have posted this list of supposed comments from Facebook users in various places. It's purported to be a bunch of people posting that the Japanese deserved what they got as some kind of karmic retribution for the bombing of Pearl Harbor. I thought it looked a little suspicious. So I looked up 3 or 4 of the more unique names in Facebook and none of them came up. I'm calling this one a hoax. Do people think this is funny? I don't get it.

Some of my friends are into so-called "alternative news sources." I find I have even less faith in "alternative news sources" than I do in the mainstream ones. I really don't trust the mainstream news 100%. I doubt that we're being told the whole truth about those atomic reactors, for example. But I also doubt the shrill screams I hear from the "alternative news sources" who seem to have even less access to legitimate information than the mainstream news. My friend Ren in Tokyo posted an article titled Why I Am Not Worried About Japan’s Nuclear Reactors by a guy who seems to know what he's talking about. I hope he's right. He seems more sensible than most of what I've heard elsewhere.

A Japanese guy on my Facebook page posted some stuff about Jews leaving the World Trade Center before the attacks there and wondered if anyone had heard anything about Jews leaving Japan. The things people believe are often unbelievable to me.

I lived in Japan for eleven years. Earthquakes are like a form of weather over there. I also lived in California where people worry about earthquakes. But in my five years in Los Angeles I never felt a single one. Whereas in Tokyo you'd get them every couple of months, it seemed. They were usually just little ones. Some you'd barely even notice. Others would shake your stuff around a bit. I never experienced one that even knocked anything over. But you get used to them.

I worked for a company whose stock in trade was making simulated natural disasters as a form of children's entertainment. Check out this example:



The fake tsunami begins at about 0:43 into this clip from Ultraman Leo made in 1974. The earthquake/tsunami footage from episode one of this series was so good it was used as stock footage in other programs of ours for almost ten years. Some of it looks a lot like the real stuff we're seeing on the news lately.

These TV shows were a way for people to cope with the constant fear of this kind of disaster. Everyone who lives in Japan knows that it is a disaster prone country. You just hope for the best and prepare as well as you can. I had all my bookshelves anchored to the wall when I lived there and a stock of food and water under the sink where I thought it might be sheltered if the house collapsed. You were always aware that things were pretty precarious.

I understand why the Americans were unable to make a decent Godzilla movie. They didn't understand what Godzilla movies are really about. Godzilla is not an animal. He is the embodiment of natural and man-made disasters. This is why weapons are ineffective against him, the same way as you can't fight an earthquake or tsunami.

I spent a lot of time in Miyagi Prefecture, where the worst of this occurred. I can recognize some of the places I liked to go in Sendai in some of the videos and photos I've seen. I've been to some of the seaside areas that were devastated by tidal waves. It's pretty shocking to see that.

I guess as a Buddhist writer I'm supposed to post some thoughtful meditation on the fragility of life like this one from Shambhala Sun Space. But I'm not that kind of person. So this is what you get.

Life is fragile. You and I are living lives just as precarious as those people who got swept away into the ocean last week. We just fool ourselves into believing otherwise.

But that's not a reason to live in fear. Life is a terminal disease. Shunryu Suzuki Roshi said that life is like going out on a boat that heads off into the sea and then begins to sink. Yet somehow he managed to find a kind of joy and beauty in that. In fact, it is the precariousness of life that makes beauty and joy possible.

So there.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

NEWS MOSTLY SUCKS


Here are the facts. There was a massive earthquake centered just off the coast of Japan just north of the city of Sendai. My ex-wife Yuka's family lives in Osaki-shi Kashimadai 大崎市鹿島台 (formerly just plain Kashimadai) which is just north of Sendai. The only report of any kind I have been able to find on the Internet regarding the town contains just three words, "very much destroyed." I have to assume this is a translation from Japanese, which leads me to believe that the intended message is that very many (much) of the things in the city have been destroyed and not that the city itself is very much destroyed. This is just my sense after working for a decade and a half figuring out what Japanese people actually mean when they speak English.

At the same time, I was struck with one of the worst colds I've ever had at almost the very moment the earthquake hit Japan. So I missed the initial news reports, being in no condition to even look at the computer. Today I feel a lot better and have been scouring the news for any information about Kashimadai beyond those three words. I have turned up nothing so far even when searching in Japanese. I hope this is good news. I figure that if anything really dramatic occurred in Kashimadai they'd be reporting it. (As I was writing this someone on Facebook sent me a report in Japanese that lists 4 dead, 1 missing, 6 injured and 363 people in shelters in the city, which would make it one of the least affected places in the area)

But it's a given that Yuka's family have been affected by the earthquake. Her parents live in a 2-story house in a rural area, not directly connected to any other structure. Her brother and his family live across the street in a third story apartment in a gigantic apartment complex. They're not very near any major bodies of water. They're far enough inland I'm not much worried that they got hit directly by a tsunami.

There is very little I can do. I've asked Yuka to let me know when she hears anything and I trust that she will. She's in Los Angeles and I'm in Akron and we don't speak that frequently these days. I don't want to pester her about this. She has enough to deal with. Beyond that I'm pretty much helpless to help much. So all I have left to do is worry. And worry doesn't help anyone at all.

Of course I am worried nonetheless. What can I do about that?

I've seen what the news is doing about that. They're flooding us with photos and videos of the destruction. I spent some time this morning on BBC's website. And it was there that it struck me what's really going on with the news. I clicked on a report about the Number 2 (Daini) nuclear power plant in Fukushima. But before the report played I had to sit through an advertisement.

So there I was trying to get some shred of info about what might be happening to people I care about and I had to watch someone try to sell me something. I don't even remember what it was.

It reminded me of September 11, 2001. I was living in Tokyo then and I recall trying to get information from the Internet. After about an hour of searching it hit me. "These people don't know anything." Those exact words popped into my head. Although the Internet was filled with reports and pictures, nobody really knew anything useful.

Same with the earthquake. There are just a few actual facts. Beyond that what you're reading and listening to is opinions, speculations and advertising. Most of which is worthless. You can sit there listening to the same three facts get repeated over and over and over, hoping that something new might be added. But you'd be better off cleaning your room instead and switching the news on again when you're done.

All this stuff makes me think about the whole phenomenon called "being concerned." Society places a great deal of importance upon "being concerned" about this, that or the other terrible thing going on somewhere in the world. I agree that a bit of this concern is useful in helping alleviate suffering in those places. But it strikes me that the vast majority of what we call "being concerned" involves getting into our own heads, turning over the information, imagining whatever we want to imagine, working up our emotions, wallowing in our feelings like a pig in mud. For some reason I've never been able to comprehend very clearly this makes us look good socially, like we're doing the right thing.

But I'm unable to see how watching endless reports, loaded with advertising, about a disaster really helps anything. Just my two cents for today. I'm going to go back to bed and drink orange juice.

(An explanation for the image above can be found here. Apparently being gay causes earthquakes.)

Thursday, March 10, 2011

FLORIDA and THE PRIME DIRECTIVE


I'm back from Florida, where I only barely survived, as you can see in this photo. Florida has a lot of indigenous prehistoric reptiles and you have to be careful not to get too close to them. Luckily this one spit me out just after the photo was snapped.

My next stop is a return visit to sassy Saskatoon. The appearances I have lined up there are as follows:

Thursday, March 17:
7:30 pm - Reading at McNally Robinson.

Friday, March 18:
11:30am-1pm -Talk on Sex, Sin and Zen/intro to meditation, ARTS 146 on U of S campus. (Note Room Correction! That's ARTS 146).

2:30pm - meditation at the Multi-Faith Centre at Rugby Chapel, the old church on the west side of St. Thomas More College on College Dr.

7:30pm - introduction to meditation at
Ken Sailor's house, 422 10th St E.

For more information please contact Jan or Ken at 665-3430 or
ken.sailor@gmail.com

Those of you with Facebook can check out this page for the events.


Oh and I gotta show you the birthday cake the fine folks in Florida fed me for my f-f-f-freaking birthday. Isn't it adorable? I kept the dinosaur. He's on my window sill now.

What can I tell you? How about I present you an article I put together for Suicide Girls and then decided not to send them? Special thanks to Brian Gilman who sent me a bunch of old articles of mine that I had deleted from my original webpage. This one probably came out less than a year after 9/11/2001. So I updated it a lot.

The Prime Directive

I've been thinking about the Prime Directive lately. For those of you who aren't regular viewers of Star Trek, it's a science fiction TV series set 300 years in the future. In the show there is a U.N. type group called the Federation that governs the activities of the intelligent beings on various planets throughout the galaxy who have developed space travel and enjoy exploring other planets. The Prime Directive is the Federation's law that says that none of these explorers must make contact with, or give advanced technical knowledge to planets whose inhabitants aren't sufficiently developed socially to handle such contact or such technology.

Although it’s science fiction, this law makes very good sense. We usually don't think about it this way, but the development of advanced technology is very much dependent upon a society's ability to abandon traditional views based on superstition and baseless speculation, and embrace a more realistic outlook based on straightforward, dispassionate observation of the real world.

On September 11th 2001 a group of religious fundamentalists used jet airplanes to destroy two of the world's largest skyscrapers. For the past ten years we’ve wondered and speculated about why they did this. Some people have talked about the various elements of economic repression wielded by Big Oil and the anger this creates. I don’t doubt that this has a lot to do with what happened. But I’d like to put forth my own speculation, which I think gets more at the heart of the matter.

The very existence of jet airplanes and skyscrapers stands as undeniable proof that the worldview these religious fundamentalists held dear is utterly wrong. In fact the existence of these things is proof that all forms of religious fundamentalism are wrong. It is tangible proof that neither the Qu’ran, nor the Bible, nor even the Buddhist sutras are literally true.

You'll recall from your high school science and history courses that there was tremendous opposition by the Catholic Church towards the scientific theories regarding the Earth's position relative to the sun and stars when they were first proposed. Scientists who supported these new theories did so at the risk of their careers and even their lives. If the traditional view of the cosmos with Hell somewhere underground and Heaven way up in the sky was not true then the Bible, or at least the church's very literal interpretation of it, was wrong. If the population at large accepted such a view the church knew its days of power and influence were numbered. In this at least, the church was absolutely right.

The construction of a jet airliner or a skyscraper takes a very sophisticated understanding of scientific theories that stand opposed to fundamentalist beliefs. Only a society that has abandoned such fundamentalist ideas can produce jets and skyscrapers. The proof that scientific humanism is true is right in front of you. The computer you're using couldn't possibly exist if it were not. Furthermore, only a sufficiently humanistic society can produce the kind of resources needed to justify luxury items like computers. If a fundamentalist terrorist really wants to be true to his beliefs he should never use any type of advanced technology.

For a very long time I embraced the idea that societies around the world are held back by the unfair material and economic resources of the West, that if only they had these advantages they'd be able to stand on their own. I do not believe that any group of human beings are in any way fundamentally more or less intelligent than any other.

But recently I've begun to suspect that the thing that holds many societies back more than any other is their inability to abandon their cherished ideas about the world.

Economics is an important factor, but not the decisive one. One of the reasons Japan can compete with the West on its own terms is that the Buddhist worldview that underlies their society has allowed it to abandon its previously cherished ideas upon seeing that these ideas were mistaken. Sure there was a massive amount American money pumped into that country after World War II. But money wasn't really the key. If money alone was the decisive factor, the oil-rich nations of the Middle East would all be first world countries by now.

This is, of course, a very complex situation. But one really important factor that seems to be overlooked in all the talk about these matters is the inability of most human beings to admit when they are wrong, to admit that reality is at odds with their ideas and to be sensible enough to side with reality instead of fighting it. We'll go to any length, it seems, to avoid owning up to the fact that we've made a mistake.

I have no idea what sort of civilizations may exist on other planets. But I agree with modern scientific thinkers who say the chances are very good such civilizations do exist. It's entirely possible some of them are more technologically advanced than us. If they are it is because they have a worldview that is more realistic than the one our society has. Maybe there are intelligent aliens out there exploring space right now. If so, I hope they have something like the Prime Directive. Whatever technology they use to explore space might be so at odds with our current worldview as to make us a threat to them should they allow it to fall into our hands. We might try and use their technology to destroy them in a futile attempt to preserve our own mistaken ideas. And if we did we'd be as blind to our true motivations as our terrorist friends are.

If you’re basically a liberal like me, it’s very difficult to think in terms of civilizations here on Earth that are more socially advanced than others. I always want to give everyone their due and be able to see the beauty in any culture. I know that there is much that a society like ours can learn from the seemingly primitive ways of other cultures. I also know that the idea that some societies are more advanced than others has led to all kinds of tragedies, like slavery or the slaughter of the Native American and Australian people just to name a few obvious examples.

But I also feel that humanity as a whole is moving in a certain direction, and that direction is toward a higher and more rational civilization. We have a long way to go. And there are ways in which our own society is very advanced in some ways, yet positively retarded in others. Still, this movement toward rational humanism is real and cannot be stopped.

It is impossible for us to adopt a kind of Prime Directive when it comes to our dealings with cultures on our own planet that have yet to adopt a humanistic outlook. They've already been contaminated. Technological knowledge is spreading across the globe at a rate never seen before in history. It may take thousands of years for a society to develop sufficiently to be able to create a jet airplane. But because human beings are all basically equal in intelligence and ability, a fanatic from a far less developed society can learn to fly one in a week or so.

It is imperative that this un-stoppable spread of technological knowledge be paired with the spread of a more realistic and humanistic worldview. And this worldview is, itself, highly threatening to fundamentalist religions.

Some people get pretty upset at the suggestion that what is seen as the Western worldview should be pushed upon people who have their own worldviews. But I don’t really see the humanistic realistic worldview as fundamentally Western. It is the worldview that the West has used to get as far as it’s gotten. But it isn’t our view. It isn’t one viewpoint among equals.

I know some people recoil in horror at the suggestion that any viewpoint is fundamentally better than others. But it seems to be to be undeniably true that some worldviews are actually better. Humanism and realism work because they are more in line with how things actually are than with how we might wish them to be.

Captains Kirk, Picard, Janeway and all the rest of the starship commanders and their crews from Star Trek represent a fictionalized speculation about what a society that has taken the humanistic and realistic worldview several steps further than we have at present. I’m sure they’ve gotten a lot of details wrong. But I think the producers of those shows are on the right track. Or Trek.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

SHOPLIFTING FROM AMERICAN APPAREL TRAILER

Here is the trailer for the movie I'm in, Shoplifting From American Apparel and some info about the movie.





(Those of you viewing on Facebook, go to http://kck.st/h1d3lY)

The producers are using Kickstarter to fund the film. They're soliciting donations from people who want to support the movie's production. Everyone who donates a certain amount gets something. For example, if you donate about the cost of a DVD you get a DVD of the film when it's done. Which, I think is very cool. I'd buy all my DVDs this way if I could.

To donate go to http://kck.st/h1d3lY.

Maybe I should fund my next book thru Kickstarter...

Today I'm on my way to Florida. Out of the freeeeeezing cold of Ohio down to the tropic beauty of Florida. On March 5th (my birthday!) I will be at Brevard Zen Center for an all-day zazen thing. I'll speak at 2pm. You can come at 9 am and sit all day, or just come for the talk. You'll get a lot more out of it if you sit all day. But it's up to you. They're located at 1261 N. Range Rd Cocoa, Florida 32926. Call (321) 795-6572 for details.

See you in Florida!

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

REASONABLE DOUBTS ABOUT EMPTINESS and THE LAW OF IDENTITY


I've been driving a lot lately. I drove from New York to Akron, then from Akron to St. Louis, then from St. Louis to Lawrence, Kansas, then from Lawrence, Kansas to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, then from Cedar Rapids Iowa back to St. Louis, and then from St. Louis back to Akron. I've gone different ways with the problem of what to do to keep from nodding off while on long drives. For a while I was all "Buddhist" about it and refused to listen to the radio or any other form of audio entertainment. That was actually quite nice. You notice more of what's on the road that way.

But you can also get bored during long stretches of stuff that all looks the same. Another McDonald's, another Taco Bell, another billboard denouncing abortion... The brain works this way, no matter how many hours you've spent meditating. So I got an iPod and started downloading podcasts. One of the ones I've been enjoying lately is called Reasonable Doubts: Your Skeptical Guide to Religion. That's their blog, which I've never actually read (I looked it up for this article). You can download their podcasts here (although I get them from iTunes, myself).

It's a very informative show in which a group of nerdy atheists from Grand Rapids, Michigan discuss religion. The hosts are Jeremy Beahan, an Adjunct Professor teaching classes on Philosophy, World Religions, Biblical Literature, Aesthetics, and Critical Thinking through FSU, Luke Galen, an Associate Professor of Psychology at Grand Valley State University, and David Fletcher, the founder and former chair of CFI Aquinas College. One of the hosts (I forget which one) identifies himself as a lapsed evangelical Christian. When it comes to Christianity, they know their stuff.

But they don't know a whole lot about Buddhism, which is unfortunate. I recently listened to a podcast featuring an interview with Stephen Batchelor. The interview itself was really nice. I like Stephen Batchelor. But the long introduction to the interview contained a lot of really common misunderstandings about Buddhism. This really surprised me given the depth of knowledge about Christianity the hosts demonstrated.

Apparently one of the hosts has visited a temple. He made the statement that when playing to Western audiences the Buddhists tend to "hide the crazy" until said Westerners are hooked. None of the hosts seem ever to have attempted to practice any meditation beyond the very introductory stages. This may be the root of their confusion. Trying to explain Buddhism without having any background in meditation is like trying to explain baseball without ever having actually played. You can get some of the superficial stuff correct. But beyond that you're going to be indulging in pure speculation, drawing a lot of inferences from what you imagine things to be like.

I will not deny that there is a lot of crazy stuff out there that labels itself Buddhism. Genpo Roshi's Big Mind® nonsense is an obvious example. Even more traditional forms of Buddhism indulge in a certain degree of craziness. Like the obsession with reincarnation in certain sects, or various supernatural and superstitious elements present in others.

But the hosts made some statements that really annoyed me because they're common assumptions that appear to be accepted as solid fact by a large number of academics and intellectuals. But they are completely mistaken. One was that the only pure form of Buddhism out there is Theravada (pronounced tare-ah-vah-dah, the h after the t is silent). Theravada Buddhism presents itself as an unbroken lineage stemming from Buddha's earliest followers which preserves its original spirit.

In fact, though, the historical research I'm familiar with has it that Theravada, like Zen, was a reform movement started long after Buddha's death. And, like Zen, it was an attempt to get in touch with the original teachings of Buddhism. The difference between Theravada and Zen is that Theravada rejects all of the Mahayana sutras.

The Mahayana sutras, as I'm sure many readers know, were composed hundreds of years after Buddha's death, yet often contain sayings attributed to Buddha and to his original followers. I don't feel that this was any attempt at forgery in the way we understand the term today. Rather it was a literary device that was accepted at the time.

The Theravada folks decided that these inauthentic sutras should be ignored and that only what was written in the most ancient sources -- the Pali canon -- should be accepted. Unfortunately, even the most ancient sources we have for Buddha's words were composed at least 200 years after his death. Some of the Mahayana sutras date from around the same time. The Pali canon may be closer to what Buddha actually said. But we don't really know to what degree.

Zen, on the other hand, accepted certain of the Mahayana sutras based on their content. It rejected others. Most Zen teachers I know are a little ambivalent about the Pali canon, taking it much like they do the Mahayana sutras, according to its content.

Zen kind of looks upon Buddha the way scientists look upon Einstein. Science reveres Einstein as the originator of much of what we understand about physics today. But they don't consider him to be infallible. Furthermore, no scientist would reject new additions to our understanding of physics simply because Einstein himself had not actually come up with them.

If Buddhism were a religion it would be blasphemy to suggest that someone other than Buddha might have improved upon what Buddha taught. But Buddhism is not a religion and Zen does take the shocking view that it is possible that others have built upon Buddha's original findings and perhaps even - gasp! - improved upon them. Or it may be more comfortable to say that perhaps these later folks didn't so much improve upon Buddha's ideas as express them a bit more clearly or in a more accessible way.

The other thing the guys at Reasonable Doubts kept saying over and over and over that bugged the shit out of me was this. They said that Mahayana Buddhism, which they explained to their audiences as a bastardization of the pure Theravada tradition, had introduced irrationality into Buddhism with the concept of emptiness. This concept of emptiness, they said, implies that all statements are their opposites. This, they told us, violates the "law of identity A = A" (that's how they repeatedly said it). Therefore it is impossible to make any rational statement in Mahayana Buddhism.

The Reasonable Doubts podcast has a habit of degenerating into something like lessons in the art of debate for secular humanists. The focus seems to be on how to defeat religious people with logical argument. The hosts were frustrated because they believed that the concept of emptiness introduced unfalsifiable statements and prevented any rational argument. The hosts seemed at a loss for hints to their listeners on how to defeat Buddhists in debate.

Now, I'm not sure where exactly they got their information about the Mahayana doctrine of emptiness. Maybe there's a text book out there that explains it this way, or some authority on Buddhism who lectures like this. Or maybe it's just in the air somehow. But the idea that the doctrine of emptiness means Mahyana Buddhism is all about being illogical is very popular. I've encountered it a lot.

I believe that this conclusion about the doctrine of emptiness negating the law of identity (A=A) therefore no rational statement can be made runs something like this. I'm guessing here, because this is so foreign to my understanding of the doctrine of emptiness that I have a hard time getting my head around it. But here goes nothin'.

1) The doctrine of emptiness says everything is empty of self nature (so far so good).

2) If everything is empty of self nature then every thing in the universe is its exact opposite. White is black, war is peace, The Beatles are The Bee Gees. (This is already going wrong)

3) Since every thing is its opposite no rational statement can be made.

4) Therefore, Mahayana Buddhists are all crazy because they believe that good is evil, chocolate is peanut butter, and Charlie Sheen is the Dalai Lama*. You can't even argue with people like that!

The actual doctrine of emptiness bears no relation to this. Even if your buddy the Buddhist at the coffee shop down the street claims it does and even if he ought to know because he read a book by Alan Watts six year ago.

The biggest problem is that the doctrine of emptiness is not an intellectual supposition. It is not a theory arrived at by considering the problems of existence with the thinking mind. It is an attempt to explain in words the experience of Zen practice.

Buddhists do not think pink is orange, fish are elephants and Paris Hilton is the entire London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. Things are what they are. Zen texts like the Sandokai (Harmony of Equality and Difference) are not trying to refute the law of identity. Things are different from each other. Yet ultimately all things are of one substance. And by "ultimately" I don't mean in some future realm where they have all melted into one another in preparation for the next expansion of the universe. All things are connected and inseparable from each other right now. This is clearly visible once you know how to look for it. But provisionally we can say that A does indeed equal A. And that is important.

Every concept the mind can create includes its opposite. No thought is ultimate because each idea depends on every other idea it might possibly contrast with for its apparent self existence. Our own existence as individuals is dependent upon all of creation. This does not negate our individual existence. It is an attempt to see our individual existence in a different light.

(big sigh)

Oh man! Can you believe I have worked for something like four hours on this one silly blog piece? And I still haven't gotten anywhere near what I wanted to say.

Oh well.

I hope it was at least funny.

Thanks.



*A third irksome aspect of the podcast, which I'm not even addressing is how the presenters assume that the Dalai Lama is the #1 uber Buddhist of all time, the ultimate human expression of all of Buddhism.


(I’m still taking a break from reading the comments section of this blog. If you have something you feel you must say to me in response to this, write me an email at spoozilla@gmail.com. If you just post something in the comments section, I will not see it.)